The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

GV guest choreographer brings freedom, expression into ballet-inspired piece

Courtesy | Dance Fremont

Dance students at Grand Valley State University had the opportunity to learn from guest artist Karena Birk, a Washington-based dancer and choreographer, during her week-long residency. Birk’s lesson plans prioritized ballet, technique and making professional connections outside of GVSU. 

Birk is the director of Dance Fremont, a non-profit community dance school for youth and adults in Seattle, Washington. At the studio, Birk uses her background in ballet, jazz and modern dance to choreograph and teach dancers.

The GVSU Dance Program brought Birk to campus to teach a number of ballet classes, and to choreograph a collaborative ballet-inspired piece for the GVSU Spring Dance Concert. Birk said her time working with GVSU dancers was a mutually exciting and beneficial experience. 

“The students were really open and engaged and excited to be there,” Birk said. “They (the students) were an absolute delight to be in a room with and to be working with.” 

A major point of emphasis in Birk’s instruction was teaching ballet in an anatomically friendly way that doesn’t force the dancer’s body into creating movement that could lead to pain or injury. Because ballet is sometimes viewed as a restrictive dance technique, Birk focuses on creating movement that emphasizes freedom and expression. 

Birk said she was impressed with the quality of dance exhibited from GVSU students, commending their extensive knowledge of dance technique. Birk also credits the GVSU instructors and choreographers for the dancers’ proficiency in both ballet and set piece.

“Coming here, it’s really beautiful to see how well the dancers are working,” said Birk. “It’s really lovely to see the great work that the faculty here have been doing with them on how to use their own bodies to dance.” 

Emma Buschle, a senior at GVSU majoring in Dance and Advertising & Public Relations, admires Birk for her ability to offer positive feedback while pushing the dancers to work hard and fulfill her choreography vision. Buschle said Birk’s choreography style is “dancer-focused,” which she attributes to Birk’s effort during rehearsals to get to know each of her dancers.

“Working with Birk has been a joy, thanks to her wealth of knowledge in the world of ballet and her brightly positive approach to teaching,” Buschle said.

Buschle said she has significantly grown in her understanding of ballet, technique and performance during her time dancing at GVSU. With Birk’s visit and choreography, Buschle said she had the freedom to explore a different, enjoyable style of ballet and performance. Buschle said guest choreographers offer a valuable and important experience for GVSU dance students. 

“Dance students must have these opportunities to learn from guest artists (in order) to make new connections in the dance profession and (to) build upon our repertoire of styles,” said Buschle. “I can excitedly say that I have yet to perform in a ballet piece quite like Birk’s at Grand Valley.”

Birk’s collaborative piece will debut at GVSU’s Spring Dance Concert, which will take place on April 20 and 21 at the Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts.

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